While hearings for mining projects have become commonplace throughout Eeyou Istchee, none have been more controversial than those for Strateco’s mining exploration project since the Cree campaign to stop the Great Whale project back in the 1990s.

In the last of a series of hearings that happened before the Strateco project could be granted the go-ahead, the people of Mistissini as well as a series of activists and experts spoke out against the project while Strateco President and CEO Guy Hebert and a handful of other individuals sung its praises. There to moderate was the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission which asked questions and kept a record of the proceedings.

The following is a collection of excerpts from the hearings for those who did not get a chance to listen in to the full event in Mistissini June 5-6. They are not full transcripts but rather a collection of ideas and powerful words expressed by those who decided to take a stand and speak from the heart about their land and how it should be treated.

It is followed by a full interview with Guy Hebert in reaction to the hearings.

Sophie Coonishish, community member

This morning, when I woke up, I cried. My grandson was sleeping beside me and all I could do was cry because I had a special request today to make.

What I’m asking today – I’m directing this to our Cree leadership who say they have a right to approach the government whenever they can – I’m asking for a moratorium on this project. I’m asking the panel to deny the request for the license to start this project.

I’m asking today because this license will allow them to kill our land and waters. If they kill the land and waters, they kill our culture. If you kill our culture, you will kill us as people. Please forgive me. If this license is granted, they will be licensed to kill us and our future generations.

Shawn Iserhoff, Mistissini Youth Chief

There are reasons as to why the youth do not support the project. The youth have indicated that Strateco has not provided enough information with regards to the Matoush Project.

It is important that clear and transparent information is provided to our members. Many youth question the information Strateco is proving to the community with regards to this project. The youth have many concerns with respect to the potential impacts this project will have on the environment.

The youth believe this project will negatively affect the land, water and wildlife, or traditional use of our people. Our culture and society are deeply rooted to the environment, the youth want to protect and preserve the land for our future generations.

The main watershed for the region originates from the Otish Mountains; this area is sacred to the Cree. These waters provide nourishment for our people, the wildlife and environment.

Our youth recognize some of the employment opportunities of this project. However, the long-term impacts this project could possibly impose on the environment is the main concern of the youth. The Albanel-Témiscamie-Otish Park is currently in the works and the Mistissini youth believe this project will pose a direct threat to long-term economic opportunities like tourism and outfitting that would showcase the culture, traditions and Cree way of life.

How will this project affect the tourism industry for the Cree? The Mistissini youth clearly do not support the project and I indicated that uranium development is not a solution to the economic and social needs of the community.

Len Taylor, Youth pastor

Strateco wants us to accept their word that uranium exploration mining will have no impact on the environment and on our health as a people. They want us to believe that it is safe. I have studied uranium for the past three years and have read hundreds of articles and documents that show the opposite of what Strateco has presented to us, showing how exploration and mining of uranium is dangerous to the water, to the land, to the birds, to the fish, the moose, the beaver, the zooplankton, the phytoplankton and humans as well. We don’t believe Strateco. They have lied too many times to us.

Allen Matoush, community member

I am not an expert in any uranium or any signs related to it, but I am mature enough to understand the information that is given to Cree people.

When we speak about the land, our land, we need to know what we are talking about. That area where the project is, I have – I belong, belong in this. I have a really deep sense of belonging in this. Even though I am from this community, my first home is in the Otish Mountains and I know that it would not be same as the way my parents live.

So one of the instructions – they were not elaborate ones – is to treat everybody with openness and respect. Since the project started, the Strateco people, I met them 2007. They walked with me, they talked to me about that area, what is it that they want to do. I was curious, I wanted to find out, what is it for – uranium.

Cree people in their heart want to share, and if you can just look beyond the project, that this project with all the regulations and the agreements that we have, if you look at them, they’re all allowable, whether if it’s uranium too.

Within that scope it’s allowable and it’s doable. We hear the management and the control systems that are presented. I for one have great confidence that this can be done.

And the purpose of the uranium, what is it used for? Every Cree person will pass on that torch of flame to warm up your tent or your tepee. If you can just look at it that way, enough fire to keep you warm will give you comfort and safety, and too much of it will obviously have risks on it.

And I think the same way with the uranium. If you look at the world, the world is not concerned about uranium. They’re concerned about the global warming, and together the world is trying to do something about that. If there are resources on the Cree territory, then let Crees be open to be able to contribute.

Matthew Sandy Coon-Come, community member

The Matoush – the uranium mine that they want to start, that’s where my mother was from. I hunted there and go hunting once in a while there such as the winter, in the fall I would fly there.

It’s true that they will be destroying the water and the animal and where the animals feed, the feeding grounds. When we go hunting there – we don’t get our animals from farms when we hunt, they are not domesticated. We have to hunt them; we have to pursue them to kill them.

Like the Rupert River, I worked there too. In the last days of the work, they didn’t really do it with care in the finalization of the product. I am requesting that you end the project with care. I know that you will not wrap the project up carefully. I’m certain of it. I have my own hunting territory. It’s on the north side of that area.

My father’s name was Jimmy. He handed down the territory to me. My children and my grandchildren and their children will want to hunt on this land, and then I hear how severe the effects are from this kind of project. From what I’ve been told, it will affect generations down after me.

At first I thought I’ll agree to it because if I approve, then I will be hired. I will be taken, but I am against this. I oppose this. I do not surrender my land for this to be done to it. It will fare much better if it is left to be as is.

Ramsay Hart, MiningWatch Canada

This is a difficult situation, this licensing hearing. Licensing hearings presumably are about dealing with smaller technical details of a proposed project and yet we are being faced with fundamental questions around social acceptability of this project. For me, that leads me to conclude that previous steps in this process have failed. They have failed the people of Mistissini in terms of having their voices heard.

MiningWatch recommended to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) when you wrote your comprehensive study report that you had underestimated opposition to this project and that given the lack of social license, the CNSC, during its environmental assessment process, should not move forward with it. That recommendation was not considered and so now you find yourselves in a position to have to grapple with an attempt to deal with technical issues in a licensing hearing, but being faced with fundamental questions around social acceptability.

I do not agree that the CNSC does not have a mandate to deal with social acceptability. The CNSC is a federal agency. The federal government has an obligation, under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, to seek free, prior and informed consent before development is approved on Indigenous territory. The CNSC is a federal agency bound by the Constitution of Canada and Section 35, which affirms Aboriginal Rights.

The CNSC is a federal department, which is bound by the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, which, from what Cree leaders have told me, is about more than just establishing formal processes for review of projects. It’s about finding ways to co-manage and share responsibility for decision-making.

The CNSC also has a mandate towards sustainable development and to evaluate the health effects of specific projects. Evaluating the health effects of a project should go beyond just measuring potential exposure to radionuclides but also look at the social impacts and the social determinants of health. From our work on mining controversies around the world, MiningWatch has observed a number of social impacts from mining conflicts, the likes of which you are pushing Mistissini towards should you provide further approvals to this project. Further approval of this project could lead to legal action, and Canada has been sharply rebuked by organizations like the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination for relying on the courts to resolve disputes.

Further approval of this project would divert attention in the community to mobilizing and trying to make efforts to have their voices heard, diverting attention from other pressing social and community issues.

It could increase social divisions and tensions, and I strongly believe it would also impact on the credibility of the CNSC, on the mining sector, and of the federal government. So I do not accept that the CNSC cannot and should not examine social acceptability in your deliberation.

Annie Neeposh Iserhoff,  community member

I have an honorary PhD on the traditional way of life. Honorary meaning I earned it later on in life. I also have tried to practice the traditional way of life as much as possible even though I have been in school and in the workforce most of my life.

On a serious note, I’d like to give my respects to all who are here, the CNSC, the panel and the people who are listening to this hearing. There were a few questions that cropped up in my mind after listening to Strateco during their open house on the uranium exploration, and when the special guest, Gordon Edwards, did a presentation at the Voyager Memorial School and on the radio informing us about uranium mining, its uses and its effects.

Why was the Cree Nation of Mistissini the only one being consulted and informed about the exploration and the possibility of a uranium mine? Shouldn’t we have involved the other Cree communities as was expressed on the radio show on the evening of May 15, 2012 by members of the coastal communities?

The minute I heard that there was a chance that a uranium mine might open, my antennas went up. I did a bit of surfing on the net for information. The information was mostly negative. Should a uranium mine open, not only will it affect the tallyman and their family members but many people, as radon toxic wastes will be left behind.

Who will monitor the wastes that will be left behind when the mine closes? These wastes will be exposed to the environment for hundreds and thousands of years. The rivers, streams, and underground watershed flow from the Otish Mountains.

If this exploration goes to the next phase, that is if Strateco gets its license, won’t this type of mine affect most Quebecers, as this area has the largest fresh water?

Justice Debassige, student activist from Mistissini

As you know, the project is called the Matoush Project. The Matoush Project might be good for the development of our community, but not good for the wellness of our land.

For the development, the band would receive money from the project and there might be more job opportunities for the people of Mistissini. But how many jobs and how much money would we receive? These are the questions we must try to answer.

When I went to an information session given by Strateco Uranium Mining Corporation I learned that there would be 180 jobs available for the five-year exploration phase and 300 jobs during the lifetime of the mine. But who is qualified for these jobs? Will these jobs be for us or experienced workers from other places?

That might benefit 6% of Mistissini’s population and their families. That is not very much for this proposed development that has so many potential risks.

I would like to outline what some of these scientifically proven risks are. First, uranium mining leaves decaying elements such as radium, radon and polonium. These elements contaminate the environment, wildlife, and the human body more than uranium would.

These uranium decay products, the things that are left behind in the waste rock and mill tailings, is the problem, not so much the uranium itself. The radiation coming off these decay products lasts for more than 100,000 years. This contamination seeps into the ground and poisons the aquifer, the water underground. Radiation causes many different cancers, diseases and sicknesses.

I am going to ask you all a tricky question. Are these jobs and maybe a few million dollars more important than our land?

Chief Richard Shecapio, Mistissini

It’s very obvious that our people disagree with many of the presentations and the information that’s been given us today, and we’re speaking today, and us as leaders of this community. So we want to say that we do not want this.

We do not approve of this. We do not want what this company is requesting for.

Even though today they sit here, and they listen to us, and they’re facing us, they have their own roles and their purpose and what is expected of them in their responsibilities. They’re listening to our people; they listen to us, all the comments. They want to tell you that even after this meeting, as far as we can go as leaders, that we will fight this, that there is no license granted….

The licensing of Strateco’s project opens the door for uranium mining on our traditional lands, and represents the first step toward a uranium boom in this region. As said during the CNSC’s presentation this morning, there are over 20 active uranium exploration projects in the region. The Cree Nation of Mistissini has also compiled a map showing many uranium claims in the Otish Mountains that touch Mistissini traditional territory as well as neighbouring traplines.

We believe that many of these claims could also become active exploration projects and possibly mines in the future if Strateco receives a license from the CNSC. The Cree Nation of Mistissini therefore feels that the most important question we need to answer is not whether we accept an exploration ramp on our traditional lands, but whether we accept uranium mining at all.

Community members have expressed a great deal of concern about the location of Strateco’s project for two main reasons. First, the project is located in the Otish Mountain drainage basin, and second, it is in close proximity to the Albanel-Témiscamie-Otish Park.

The Otish Mountains are the source of the water that supports our people. It is a sacred place for the Cree. To protect the water we drink we need to be very careful about the kind of development we are willing to allow in these mountains.

To protect these mountains for future generations we are working with the provincial government to open the Albanel-Témiscamie -Otish Park. This park will be negatively impacted by this project, as will ecotourism and the revenue it could generate for our community.

The bottom line is that uranium development and the ATO Park cannot co-exist.

We would like to make it clear that the Cree Nation Mistissini is not opposed to mineral exploration and mining. We have recently signed an Impact and Benefits Agreement with a mining company and have had a positive long-term relationship with another mining company in the past. The Cree Nation of Mistissini, however, does not believe that uranium development is an activity that is consistent with our role as responsible stewards of this land….

Finally, I am here today to serve notice that the Cree Nation of Mistissini will do whatever it takes to stop uranium development on our traditional lands.

Day 2

William Mianscum, Grand Council of the Crees (speaking on his own behalf)

I am in support of allowing Strateco Resources the licence to proceed with further advanced exploration on the Matoush Project. I believe in resource development in our territory, Eeyou Istchee, so long as we have a say on how development will take place; so long as we have a role in the monitoring processes of resource development, we must put our systems to the test.

Our  Cree mining policy, Sections 24 of the James Bay Northern Quebec Agreement, deals with processes for environmental protection in our territory, Eeyou Istchee.

I’m sorry once again.

Uranium mining today is the most regulated in the mining industry. There are nuclear watchdogs that are empowered to shut down exploration works, mining operations, if they see regulations and safety nets, networks breached.

Rachel MacLeod, community member

I am a mother of four and I speak here on their behalf, and I stand here against uranium.

I have lived in my community all my life, but had the opportunity to live down south for about five years. But home is really where the heart is. My son is eight years old and last year, we celebrated his first kill on Goose Break.

Goose Break happens in the spring when the geese fly here from the south. And 10 to 20 years from now, will we be celebrating our grandchildren or great-grandchildren’s first kill? Will we be able to go off into the bush for our annual goose hunt or moose hunt?

Will it be safe?

Jason Coonishish, Public Health Department, Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay

We must continue to ask who will bear the human cost of economic development in the North? The northern population are already in a disadvantage due to their remote location and suffer considerable health and social inequities as compared to the rest of Quebec.

Profiting from the natural resources and tourism potential in the North at the expense of these northern populations would be unjust, further increase inequities rather than helping those who need it most.

We must continue to ask: Can health and social services cope with these increased demands? Can institutions created through the provisions of the James Bay Northern Quebec Agreement, such as the Cree Health Board, have to be examined to see if their mandate and jurisdiction need to be redefined and whether resources available will be adequate to do the additional work that will likely arise from health, social and public health challenges related to the new ongoing development projects in the North. It is important to minimize the potential risks and maximize the benefits for the Cree communities as a whole.

Elder Paul Dixon, Waswanipi

Bush life will always be part of our life, it’s always been part of our past and it’s always been part of our future. In a way I’m glad that I’m here, and it’s very hard for me to trust the non-Natives, you know? Looking at it historically, what happened.

We Aboriginal people have always been begging to the white man and then we could never ask for anything. They clear-cut our ancestral lands and I have so much concern about this mine. And it’s not just a copper or a gold mine we’re talking about, we’re talking about a uranium mine.

I was telling a friend back there that guys like that don’t even read Cree, only talk Cree, you know? They don’t know the figures, they don’t know the scientific studies. They don’t even know an ordinary scientist from a top geologist. I know for sure that if we were all top geologists, and you were all top geologists up there, and everybody was in a room, we’d dead set against this uranium mine in Mistissini.

It’s always a mind game with non-Natives. They’re only aware of the environment. Historically you’ve got to look at unless you’re ignorant to the history – you’ve got to look. The non-Natives only cared about the environment, or woke up to it after they boiled a frog. That’s sad.

They never have and never will listen to a poor man’s wisdom, and this is what we’re talking about here. But the one thing that I had was – I’d like to say I’m blessed that I have convinced non-Natives and white people much like – once I am one-on-one on them, no matter what. I mean this white guy was dead set against hydro – I mean he was against hydro projects because it would bring economy – he was a Royal Bank manager. After a couple of beer and preaching at him for 10 years in our village, while he was drunk he told me I hope the projects never get built because I explained our way of life to him.

Jeff Spencer, community member

I have an unbiased opinion. I have no stake in this other than my children and their children, my in-laws, what I saw the value – my father in-law was a big part of the federal cases for the forestry.

He believed in his land, he believed in his people as I believe in these people. I want you to take all this home with you. You probably say: “Who cares, it’s just a guy from the community.” I am not from the community but I am the community becausev I’ve been here, this is my life here.

Politically, Nova Scotia and B.C. said no (to uranium mining in their provinces). You heard the Chief last night; you should have packed up and left right then because the political decision was no.

The Deputy Grand Chief supported the Chief in that position. The political decision was no. We govern this land, this is our land, our people control this land, you heard the Elder, Paul Dixon say, “The thousand years of your university, PhD’s or whatever will never teach you anything, Dr. McDill, about our land.” Live it.

I’ve lived it, I’ve been out on the land with the people, I’ve lived in the bush, I’ve seen what beauty there is. You talk about a beautiful morning this morning, well, I certainly would love my grandchildren to live that beautiful life and see that morning.
To read the full transcripts from the June 5-6 hearings go to: